David-Michel Davies, head of The Webby Awards is the internet’s ultimate tastemaker

If there’s a cool meme, a hilarious viral video, a creatively designed website or a brilliant digital campaign, then David-Michel Davies knows about it before you do. And as the executive director for The Webby Awards, he’s making sure the best of them get recognized.

“Internet culture has always been a passion for me,” says Davies. “We like to call ourselves the internet’s biggest groupies.”

The Webby Awards are the Oscars of the internet, and every year it recognizes the best of the web.  Now in its 18th year, The Webbys categories have expanded, from initially only rewarding websites to now recognizing the best designed mobile apps, film, video and social media campaigns.

This year’s nominees include viral ads from Volvo and Dove, music videos from Pharrell and Beyonce, and mobile apps QuizUp and Whisper. In total, the awards received 12,000 entries from 60 countries, which will be evaluated by a committee of 1000 judges from all over the world. Davies says these days it’s much harder to pick a winner than it used to be. “In the beginning, we got a lot of bad entries, with a few good ones, but now we get a whole lot of really good ones and a few that are excellent,” says Davies. “The contrast between what’s good and what’s excellent is way smaller than it used to be.”

Despite how web savvy everyone has become, Davies says the basic criteria for judging a winning entry has remained the same since the Awards inception. The judges evaluate entries on five factors, content, structure and navigation, visual design, interactivity and function. While the guidelines remain the same,he says the ideals for each category have evolved over time.

Being smack in the middle of all things online, Davies had a few observations about what the brands who have the most success are doing with their digital strategies.

People love being “early adopters”

“There’s a culture out there where consumers are more excited than they have been in the past to be the first person to try something,” says Davies. According to a survey his team did of 2000 Americans between the ages of 13-44, nearly half claimed to be the first in their peer group to try a new technology. This was in stark contrast to the 18% figure it had been in the past. Davies says this is a great opportunity for brands, as they can leverage people’s desire to be early adopters into brand advocacy.

He gave an example of the UK-based taxi hailing app Halo, which was launching in New York and needed to generate some buzz. The app got in touch with all the people in the city who had used the app while travelling in the UK, and got them involved with the launch. The locals were only too happy to be the first ones to use a new app launching in their city, and enthusiastically advocated it to everyone they new, giving Halo a successful, and widely covered launch.

Get an editorial approach

“We find that brands who adopt an editorial approach to their content do the best,’ says Davies. While brands have been developing content on blogs and social media for a while, he says it wasn’t always a high skill job, usually passed on to the intern or junior hire. Now, the best brands are investing in their editorial teams, hiring journalists and editors to put out engaging and relevant information, which, more importantly, is consistent with the brand’s image. 

Davies singled out Starbucks for its “Come Together” campaign during the government shutdown. “People coming together (especially in coffee shops) has always been a message Starbucks has pushed,” says Davies. “When the shutdown came, they were really prepared for it.” He says all of Starbucks’ messaging through social and advertising was consistent with its original message, and it didn’t come off as opportunistic or shallow, unlike when brands do something like a special tweet on MLK day.

Don’t rush to invest in video

Everyone may be talking about how the future of content is in video, but Davies thinks all that attention is a bit overblown. “People tend to confuse the value of a certain type of media based on how it is perceived and sold in the advertising space,” says Davies. “When we see the CPM for pre-roll video ad is $18 and the CPM for a promoted tweet is $3, we think the video is more valuable.”

For Davies, there isn’t a hierarchy of which media is more valuable, instead he says brands should focus on how suitable it is for the content. “Personally, I would prefer to read something like ‘five tips on how to do something’ rather than watch the video,” he says. “But if you’re a brand associated with something like comedy, putting out a whitepaper instead of a video about the art of a joke probably doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Great ideas aren’t enough

Through all his years evaluating the best campaigns of the web, Davies says the one thing that holds true is that for anything to become successful or go viral, several things all need to come together at once. “Sometimes, you see a brand, agency or startup has a really promising idea, then you start to understand all the ways that idea can start to fall down before it gets launched,” he says. “The stuff that typically wins a Webby Award, is when a confluence occurs of a great idea at the right time in the market, with a team that can execute it and bring it to the hands of other people. “

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